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"Controlled choice' plan is next step

If Hillsborough's desegregation case ends, it will be replaced by a controlled choice plan the School Board approved in November.

The plan, which could take effect as early as 2004, aims to decrease segregation with voluntary student crossover between black and white neighborhoods.

The hope is that white students will choose urban schools offering magnet programs and other enticements and that black students will choose suburban schools they now attend as part of court-ordered busing.

The county's 160 public schools would be divided into seven regions and seven zones. Regions would be largely suburban, predominantly white areas; zones would be urban areas with large black populations.

Here's how it works:

+ All students keep the assigned school that they now attend. The exceptions are the 7,500 students who are bused for desegregation purposes. These students, the majority of whom are black, will have no assigned school.

+ Students who have no assigned school _ or who don't want to attend their assigned school _ will be allowed to choose from about a dozen schools in the area in which they live. Some of the choices will be suburban regional schools, some will be urban zoned schools.

+ Students who select a school will be granted entry provided that space is available. Students will have to list more than one choice.

+ In the regions, parents will be able to choose schools for students entering kindergarten, sixth and ninth grades. Parents in zones in which there now is busing for desegregation will be able to choose a new school each year if they wish.

School officials project that 22 percent to 25 percent of the district's students will opt not to attend their assigned school and will pick from other choices under the plan.

The cost of the plan still is being worked out, but it has been estimated at $82-million, with the bulk of the cost going for new school buses and drivers.